Vol 12, Issue 6
STEFAN PRELEVIC and ANASTASIA TARASOVA
Raising a child means something different to every parent. While there are grains of wisdom to be gleaned from your parents (stickers are a good reward for example), well-meaning busybodies and Google, there is no nice flowchart that guides you through the elements of the parenting experience. But these well-meaning busybodies have one bit of universal advice that will aid you all when, or if, you take the plunge.
Being a good parent means…
Seriously, that’s step one.
You can’t be a good parent if you aren’t around to change a nappy, rub a sore tummy or get boogers wiped on you.
For a lot of parents, step one is hard. Much harder than it should be in a society that is beginning to recognise the importance of work-life balance. For some of us budding lawyers, work and life may (probably will) fall out of balance at some point in our careers. Or it may even come sooner if, like us, you find yourself struggling to maintain balance while still at university.
The balance we all keep is a tenuous one, it requires sacrifices and compromises on a daily basis. When that balance is disturbed, as it inevitably is, it can make us feel demoralised or diminished, as we reprimand ourselves for not being able to ‘cope’.
If you are a parent/law student one of the major disturbances you will experience at MLS is the ever-exciting take-home assessments.
These examinations are particularly problematic for parents because they have unnecessarily stringent time frames for completion and they remove a parent’s autonomy over their schedule. They assess particular students on their capacity to balance life with their study – rather than their understanding of the law.
Let us explain by way of experience…
I am a single father with shared custody of my 3-year-old daughter. I see her every second weekend, and 2 days during the week. When she is with me I make sure I am present, in mind and body, and that she is the focus of my attention as much as possible. In order to keep up with work/study, when she’s not with me I am focused on getting things done. I’m a fun guy.
If a take home exam falls on a weekend when I have my daughter, it’s a big problem. That’s exactly what happened in semester 1 with the Obs take-home assignment.
I had special consideration and got the exam pushed back to the week after which would have been fine, if I didn’t rely on that weekend to make the money I need to support myself and my daughter. When I was in undergrad I didn’t mind seeing $4 in my bank account, but as a parent it’s not a LOL worthy sight.
Plus, so I could have enough time to finish my other assessments around that time, I had to get extensions for my other subjects.
These issues were not fatal and I was thankful for the support I received from special consideration, but this is one experience I am in no hurry to repeat. I can’t help but wonder why the assessment had to take place on a weekend. If it was simply an assignment I would have been able to fit the work around my schedule more easily.
I am a single mother without any family in Australia and I work part-time. I started law school when my son barely turned two. When I enrolled in the JD, studying the law seemed like a natural survival tool. However, a rude awakening came in week 6 of semester 1, in the form of the infamous Obs take home interim assessment.
Yes, I had special consideration and some support, but delaying that first take home exam meant that I had to delay all of my assessments and miss out on classes to keep up (a luxury I just can’t afford).
When it came to doing the assessment, the LLSN bursary was not around. So I decided to toughen up and do the whole “mummy-can-multitask” thing. Yet surely enough… mummy couldn’t. By the end of it mummy was an exhausted nervous wreck. I was torn between the guilt of not spending that precious quality time with my baby and the pressure of having to address all the elements of contract formation.
I tried to convince my child that the sticker he would get for going potty was sufficient consideration, and that there was absolutely no reason for him to perform that contract on the floor (coz that’s a one-sided variation, right?). It just wasn’t working…at all. Needless to say, that mummy’s mark for that assignment only added to the horror.
Another thing about being a parent is that you actually have some very real responsibilities – you need to go back into full time work fast! With my mum in Australia during the winter break, I jumped at the opportunity to get one step closer to finishing by doing the Evidence and Proof winter intensive (despite another looming prospect of a 6000 word take home exam).
This was a good idea until I realised that the Evidence and Proof take home is the kind of exam you really do need to take home… working on it in the library with a hundred pages and diagrams lying around is practically impossible. Just like it is practically impossible (and certainly not desirable) to get a two-year old child out of the house for three days even with a full-time babysitter.
I love my son to bits and I am sick of constantly feeling guilty for not spending time with him. To lose a weekend to an assessment that could be managed much better if it were an assignment is hard. Particularly because I struggle to handle the tears every time I have to explain that mummy needs to work, to study, to put food on the table and hope that we will have a brighter future when Law School is finished. Yet when the marks for take homes come out - that future doesn’t seem so bright.
Some might say that parents shouldn’t be in the JD if they can’t handle it. Those arguments are respectfully acknowledged, but all of us have reasons for doing law later in life and for parents our kids are a big part of that.
That Sounds Rough You Say?
Sure is! The LLSN has long been concerned about take home exams and the impact they have on parents, carers and those of you who have to work weekends to pay the bills.
In response to the LLSN’s concerns the Law School has set up a sub-committee to the Students Equity and Wellbeing Committee to specifically examine the issues presented.
You can provide feedback to the sub-committee here or by e-mailing Judith Marychurch - The Assistant Dean, Teaching and Learning.
As an interim measure, the LLSN has established a bursary to cover the cost of childcare during take home exams. We implore all parents to apply now. However, throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. Changes to the manner in which these assessments are administered is required.
Stefan Prevalic is a first year JD and a Representative of the Later Law Students’ Network
Anastasia Scarfo a first year JD and a Representative of the Later Law Students’ Network
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